Recording Review: I See Hawks in LA


I See Hawks in LA A New Kind of Lonely (Western Seeds Records)

Review by Art Menius for http://artmenius.com

An old joke defines a gentleman as someone who knows how to play bluegrass music, but chooses not to do so. I See Hawks in LA offers a west coast style of acoustic music that draws deeply on bluegrass without ever becoming bluegrass except for “Hunger Mountain Breakdown Those who remember Kate Wolf will know that of which I speak and will likely love I See Hawks in LA.

Their sixth CD in a 13-year career, A New Kind of Lonely, features entirely original songs, lovely musicianship, and an open, welcoming vibe. “I Fell in Love With the Grateful Dead” captures much of the spirit of the album and the band. While that is a straight up love song to a special scene, I See Hawks in LA possesses a true facility for contrasting the music and lyrics. .” The “breakdown” in the title of “Hunger Mountain Breakdown” turns out to be a double entendre, for example, since the protagonist is pondering jumping off a cliff. “I know that if I am up here on this mountain, my problems will soon end.” “Big Old Hypodermic Needle” is an upbeat country song about overdosing on heroin.

They also have a literary inclination, which certainly distinguishes their songwriting from bluegrass compositions. “Dear Flash” is inspired by Gurney Norman’s novel Divine Rights Trip, the novel that appeared in the Last Whole Earth Catalog. As we know, Gurney hung out with the Grateful Dead when they were still called the Warlocks. “Mary Austin Sky,” on the other hand, draws inspiration from the painter Mary-Austin Klein with the wondrous opening line “even mundane objects are beautiful.”

The trio of Rob Waller (lead vocals, guitar), Paul Lacques (guitar, Dobro), and Paul Marshall (electric and upright bass) comprises I See Hawks in LA. Waller and Lacques serve as the primary songwriters. A number of guest musicians, including the fantastic southern California fiddler Gabe Witcher, help out.

By now you may have noticed a lot of references to the 1970s. It is hard to listen to this most enjoyable album without feeling the 70s groove. It is not unfair to file A New Kind of Lonely under granola music for the early 21st century. Whether you are nostalgic or just enjoy top notch songwriting, social commentary, and acoustic guitar picking, you will appreciate A New Kind of Lonely by I See Hawks in LA.

You can sample some of the cuts at http://www.iseehawks.com/store

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Book Review Revival


Book Review

By Art Menius for Artmenius.com March 2, 2012

Scott Alarick, Revival: A Folk Music Novel (Portsmouth: Peter E. Randall, 2011), 312 pp.

Click above to purchase via Amazon

Revival is a serious and important book about folk music that takes the form of a page turning novel. And, believe me, for anyone in the folk world, Revival is a page turner. Alarick delivers a fabulous introduction to the folk music world and as clear an exposition of the connections between the contemporary scene and folk traditions as can be found anywhere.

To say it is an excellent book is not the same as saying it is a great novel. Revival is not that, although consistently entertaining and well written. This, however, is one of those books – 100 years ago they were common; think Theodore Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis, or Upton Sinclair – where the ideas explored are more significant than the story or typical character development. Scott could have posited his ideas in non-fiction form. I have heard him do in lectures. Instead, he employed a more entertaining method.

An exchange on page 243 captures the central thrust of Revival – a simple proposition that those who want to move forward must know the past. The protagonist, Nathan Warren, legendary in northeastern folk circles for his almost was a star status, is dining with old friend Ferguson. The latter is a freelance music writer for the Boston Globe. Where did Scott, who spent a score in that role, get the idea for that character?

‘All people’s music,’ Ferguson said.

‘Exactly. It is authentic because it’s real, not because it’s old, or Irish, or Appalachian. That is so hip. It took me years to figure it out.’

‘There’s a funny thing about purists,’ Ferguson said…. “The artists the purists point to are always the people who changed the music. Always. Think about it. In bluegrass, it’s Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers…. Purists set the rules by exalting those who broke the rules….’

Nathan let out a long breath, still looking out the window. ‘And that’s how the big river keeps rolling along, isn’t it? We spend part of our lives thinking we’re rebelling and part of our lives thinking we’re resisting rebellion. But we are always doing what the big river wants. What the tradition wants. Taking it up and passing it on.’

The plot is more that of a film than a novel. Nathan is living a middle aged fantasy – a second lease on life thanks to a passionate affair with a much younger singer, songwriter, and fiddler, Kit Palmer. James Mason made a career playing these parts on screen. Nowadays, I’ll cast Steve Earle as Nathan; Paul Giomani as Ferguson, Melissa Leo as Jackie the bartender, and classically trained musician-turned-actress Lucia Micarelli, the street fiddler on Treme, as Kit. Both because of and in spite of Nathan’s help, her career has taken off. Not entirely unlike when 22-year-old harmonica player Annie Raines met Paul Rishell, the country blues guitar player twenty years her senior, in a Boston bar in 1992, and formed a durable partnership.

As their relationship and Kit’s career blossom, Nathan examines his life. He explores how to get out of his own way, and hers, at mid-age, as well as The role of elders in the folk community. . This drives the plot.

Of more interest, perhaps fascination, for most readers will be the myriad details ring true for any veteran of the folk world. Scott takes the reader on an inside tour through the New England folk community of the past thirty years. Some real people prove obvious, such as Betsy Siglin as Betsy Stotts. Others are less clear, more likely compilations.

A disquisition on why some singer-songwriters succeed both artistically and careerwise, Revival also concerns itself with the meaning of home and how to get back there as much as the “Wizard of Oz.” Alarick’s home is the Boston folk scene. He brings it to life on the pages of Revival.

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this folk revival has legs


By Art Menius 3/1/2012

This folk revival has legs beyond what happened fifty years ago. This one is not as obvious because it has depth, built to last, no apt to make some pop stars then fracture into many different scenes. The 21st Century folk revival comes up from these many genre related scenes, not from the top down. This movement comes from a sustainable direction. The myriad musical interests of today’s youth connect these worlds in a way consistent with Clark and Elaine Weissman’s vision for the Folk Alliance

The folk big tent thrives. It covers old-time, singer-songwriter, bluegrass, blues, Celtic, Klezmer, New Orleans jazz, world, and more. It comes to life each year at the Folk Alliance International Conference. These last three years have seen the group grow consistently young with 2012 bringing the tipping point. I am as proud and excited as any grandparent.Image

The worm has turned. It is a great time to be an elder in folk music as the kids are all right – interested in learning trad and then using it for their own purposes. We have made it through the time when we disconnected from the roots and returned to where tradition informs innovation, where the past fuels change. Some of the young folks are into the politics too. Happy days are here again.